Over six decades, Mr. Shan recorded more than 110 stories for radio and television, totaling 12,000 episodes spanning 6,000 hours or 250 days. His best-known works include his renditions of Chinese classics like “White-Eyebrow Hero” and “Sanxia Wuyi” and his dramatizations of historical figures like Zhuge Liang and Lin Zexu.
Even today, hop into a Beijing taxi and chances are the driver will be listening to one of Mr. Shan’s recordings.
“For my generation, Shan Tianfang was a master,” said Zhao Fuwei, 48, a Beijing taxi driver. “If back then there was such thing as a viral star, then Shan Tianfang was definitely the hottest viral star.”
“Listening to his stories has made it easier to kill time in bad traffic,” Mr. Zhao added. “He was so good at making complicated historical stories simple and interesting. You feel like you could relate to the characters in his stories, even though they lived a long time ago.”
Shan Chuanzhong was born on Dec. 17, 1934, in Tianjin, China. His mother, Wang Xianggui, was a stage actress. His father, Shan Yongkui, was a folk musician who played the sanxian, a three-stringed Chinese lute.
Growing up, Mr. Shan and his four sisters frequently moved around northeastern China with their performer parents, an experience that left the young boy longing for a more stable career. But in the early 1950s, when his parents divorced and his mother left the family, Mr. Shan gave up his dream of being a doctor and embraced his performance heritage.
After completing his apprenticeship with a pingshu master, he joined a folk arts troupe in Anshan, a town in northeastern China known at the time for its teahouses and pingshu performers.
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